Leonardo BOFF. Christianity in a Nutshell. Translated from the Portuguese by Phillip Berryman.  Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013. pp 122. $18.00. ISBN: 9781626980303. Reviewed by Eric W HENDRY, Plano, TX 75026

In 2011, Boff released Cristianismo: O mínimo do mínimo, which he described as his swan song, following a fifty year career of theological reflection that produced sixty texts. Looking back on his life’s project, he rhetorically asked if what Christianity seeks could be stated in few words. This brief volume succeeds in its ability to coherently establish – in a surprisingly compact set of reflections – just what Boff sees as the central items of faith within the enormously complicated hierarchy of truths.
Boff writes with the same mature wisdom and refreshing honesty that accompanied him through the trials and persecution he faced when he challenged the established order – and which eventually led him to renounce his role as a Franciscan priest and “promote himself to the state of the laity.”  I think many theologians – young lay theologians in particular – may be surprised at how much they resonate with the ideas in this text, in which Boff expresses old truths in new, fresh and often challenging language. In many ways, Boff is seeking to articulate a healthy, contemporary understanding of Christianity that resonates well with an unfolding process of evolution that is 13.7 billion years old.
The text is divided into four main themes: In chapter one, Boff depicts Christianity in its relation to the Source of all Mystery; his adept familiarity with current theories of quantum physics, dynamic cosmogenesis and contemporary panentheism are clearly integrated with the more traditional Catholic approaches toward Creation and Mystery.  In chapter two, he situates Christianity in its relationship to the Trinity of Divine Persons; he creatively reframes what he sees as the inherent connection between collective archetypes of the Holy Family and each of the Persons of the Trinity – symbolic incarnations of Mary/Spirit, Jesus/Son and Joseph/Father.  In chapter three, he further explores Christianity and the connection of the human figure of Jesus with the Incarnated Son of the Father; from the context of this relationship, Boff explores the apocalyptic, liberating dream of Jesus – the “reign of God” – through a reflective meditation on the Lord’s Prayeras an expanded Christological metaphor.

In his final chapter, Boff illustrates the relationship between Christianity and the history that followed the crucifixion and resurrection. By distinguishing significant differences between the reign of God as preached by Jesus and the ecclesial structures as they materialized over the centuries, Boff is then able to address the deep, inner dimensions of both the spirituality and movement of Christianity.  Churches can and should incarnate a message of a divine love that engages and transforms entire cultures – but only when it is lived out ecumenically between all the ecclesial traditions.  This allows Christianity to express the mercy of God as a sacred and political power for transformation.  For Boff, Christianity must live out its full, transforming reality – or it will gradually diminish into ecclesial pathologies and reductionisms that impede its own growth. The key, then, is to remind Christians of their own potential to be a positive force and civilizing leaven within the various Christian communities.
Christianity in a Nutshell is a refreshing, thoughtful and straightforward read. As the mature and creative swan song of an optimistic and seasoned theologian, Boff, after all these many decades, is still fighting on behalf of the impoverished, the powerless and those who lack a voice.

Whether you intend to use this book for personal meditation and reflection – or as a primer that introduces contemporary students to the field of theology, I foresee that many will find it a welcome and versatile addition to their course syllabi.  I highly recommend it.